UAE Team Emirates’ fine form at the 2018 Tour de France continued as Alexander Kristoff did the team jersey proud with a powerful sprint into the wind that earned him a respectable second-place finish in Valence on Stage 13.
It was a day for the sprinters – who had survived the Alps – to demonstrate their power, and a day for the GC contenders to stay safe and minimise any time loss.
UAE Team Emirates set off among a depleted peloton of 154 riders, taking on a flat 169.5km route from Bourg d’Oisans.
The race unfolded as expected with a breakaway forming after 22km and being allowed to stretch its lead to 2:20” before gradually being reeled in.
Leading the chase were UAE Team Emirates who controlled the peloton by taking on over 35 per cent of the workload from the 70km-90km mark.
Kristoff used the team’s efforts to snatch 11 more green jersey points as he contested the intermediate sprint at Saint Quentin Sur Isere, winning the battle, but crossing the line fifth behind the four man breakaway.
The European champion continued to fight until the end, ensuring he was in good position to challenge for the stage win near to the finish line. With 5.6kms to go the final breakaway rider was absorbed into the peloton, the pace increased and the sprint trains began to form.
The Norwegian saw the moves ahead and sprang into action, bullying his way to the front of the pack. With 200m to go he illuminated the race by forcing a three-way sprint with Arnaud Demare (Groupama FDJ) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Kristoff timed his attack well, but narrowly missed out on first place by a matter of inches after world champion Sagan came round him to cross the line first in 3:45:55.
Kristoff said: “I had a good finish, but unfortunately it was not enough. I tried to keep Sagan behind me, but he’s an unbelievable guy. He’s beaten me like this before and did it again today so I am of course disappointed.
“I timed my attack perfectly and kept my pace until the finish line, but he [Sagan] was just faster.”
Team leader Dan Martin, meanwhile, crossed the line safely with no time loss and has now moved up from 10th to ninth place in the overall standings.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s stage, Martin said: “After two weeks of racing, tomorrow will be hard, but we’re going to give it a go. It’s always really hot in that area, which suits me as well.
“That said, I don’t think the GC guys will be racing for the stage win tomorrow. I think it’ll be one for the breakaway.”
Stage 14 sees the peloton ride from Saint Paul Trois Chateaux to Mende – a 188km hilly route that features four categorised climbs. The final 3km climb leads up to the finish and averages 10 per cent, which will be a punishing finale for the puncheurs looking to take stage glory.
The Welshman won in an uphill sprint from Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin and AG2R La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet at the end of the 175.5km stage from Bourg-Saint-Maurice.
Thomas’ Sky team-mate Chris Froome was just behind in fourth with Movistar’s Mikel Landa fifth.
The quintet had attacked and counter-attacked one another on the way up one of cycling’s most famous climbs but were back together in the final few hundred metres, before Thomas accelerated out of the last bend to take the stage win for the second straight day.
“Not even in my wildest dreams did I think I would win on here,” Thomas said. “It’s one of those things that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Thomas won by just a couple of seconds from Dumoulin, with Bardet one second behind him and Froome a further second back.
With bonus seconds applied, Thomas extends his lead in yellow over Froome by 14 seconds to one minute and 39 seconds, with Dutchman Dumoulin a further 11 seconds back.
It was a second Tour mountain stage win in a row for Thomas following Wednesday’s victory in La Rosiere, and his third career Tour stage win.
His lead over Froome may have grown, but Thomas once again repeated that the four-time winner is Sky’s leader here.
“Like I said yesterday, I’m still riding for Froomey,” Thomas said. “Froomey is still the man. He knows how to ride for three weeks. Legend gets used way too much but he’s probably the best ever so I’m just going to enjoy this.”
Froome was slapped by one spectator and appeared to be spat at by another as he faced some of the lingering ill-feeling from the salbutamol case in which he has been cleared of wrong-doing.
The defending champion briefly turned to remonstrate with the man who hit out at him with around seven kilometres to go, but will be happy to have made it up safely.
Nowhere do the crowds get more up close and personal than they do here, and 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali paid a price as he hit a spectator and crashed while with the lead group.
Thomas had actually appeared in danger of losing yellow at the mid-point of the stage, with LottoNL-Jumbo’s Steven Kruijswijk, who started Thursday two minutes and 41 seconds down, enjoying a lead of more than six minutes as he went clear of the day’s breakaway.
The Dutchman hit the bottom of Alpe d’Huez with a lead of four minutes 18 seconds but the gap began to tumble as the gradient bit, and he was caught with 3.5km to go.
Landa, Bardet, Froome and Dumoulin all tried moves off the front as the ski resort came into view, but they were all together on the final bend before Thomas burst forward.
A second tough mountain stage took its toll with sprinters Dylan Groenewegen, Fernando Gaviria – both of whom had won two stages in this Tour – joining Andre Greipel in abandoning the Tour to leave the field of quickmen much reduced before an expected sprint on Friday.
Geraint Thomas rode his way into the yellow jersey with a memorable victory on Stage 11 of the Tour de France to La Rosiere.
The Team Sky rider attacked six kilometres from the top of the final climb of this 108.5km stage from Albertville to claim his second career Tour stage win.
His mission when he first made his move was to catch rival Tom Dumoulin, the Team Sunweb rider who was looking to make his own gains in the General Classification.
But when former team-mate Mikel Nieve slid into view, trying to win the stage from the breakaway, another prize was on offer and Thomas kicked again, passing the Mitchelton-Scott man inside the final 400 metres.
Team-mate Chris Froome came third, alongside Dumoulin, some 20 seconds later in a pretty much perfect day for Team Sky as they made up time on their rivals.
Thomas now leads by one minute 25 seconds from Froome, with Dumoulin a further 19 seconds back in third place.
It is a second spell in yellow for Thomas after he held it for four days of last year’s Tour following victory in the opening time trial in Dusseldorf.
Though the sight of Sky massed on the front of the peloton most of the day was not one to excite fans, Thomas delivered the stage win with panache.
With BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet struggling off the back of the peloton by the midpoint of the stage on the Col du Pre, the battle for yellow was on.
Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde tried a long-range attack, while Dumoulin attacked on the descent of the penultimate climb, the Cormet de Roseland, linking up with Valverde before the road rose up again towards La Rosiere.
But Sky kept their powder dry until Thomas launched his move. Froome initially held back, marking counter-moves from AG2R La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet and UAE Team Emirates’ Dan Martin before leaving them both behind and catching Dumoulin.